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Venezuela charges two Americans with 'terrorism, conspiracy'

Luke Alexander Denman, 34, and Airan Berry, 41, were among 17 people captured by the Venezuelan military who said they thwarted an attempted invasion by mercenaries in the early hours of Sunday morning.

FILE: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Picture: AFP

CARACAS - Venezuela has charged two former US soldiers with "terrorism" and "conspiracy" for allegedly taking part in a failed invasion bid to topple President Nicolas Maduro, the attorney general said on Friday.

Luke Alexander Denman, 34, and Airan Berry, 41, were among 17 people captured by the Venezuelan military who said they thwarted an attempted invasion by mercenaries in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Attorney General Tarek William Saab said they had been charged with "terrorism, conspiracy, illicit trafficking of weapons of war and (criminal) association," and could face 25-30 years in prison.

Eight attackers were reportedly killed in the attempted incursion.

Saab said Venezuela had requested an international arrest warrant for the capture of former US army medic, Jordan Goudreau, who allegedly organized and trained the mercenary force.

Maduro has accused President Donald Trump of being directly behind the invasion - and Saab said Friday that the Venezuelans involved would be tried for "conspiracy with a foreign government."

Trump has roundly rejected the accusation, telling Fox News on Friday: "If I wanted to go into Venezuela I wouldn't make a secret about it."

"I'd go in and they would do nothing about it. They would roll over. I wouldn't send a small little group. No, no, no. It would be called an army," he said. "It would be called an invasion."

Venezuela announced on Monday that it had arrested the two former US special forces soldiers and on Wednesday Maduro, who showed the pair's passports on state television, said they would be tried.

The US army has confirmed they were former members of the Green Berets who were deployed to Iraq.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US government would "use every tool that we have available to try to get them back."

In announcing the arrests, Saab claimed Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is backed in his challenge to Maduro's authority by the United States and more than 50 countries, was behind the mission.

Saab accused Guaido of signing a $212 million contract with "hired mercenaries" using funds seized by the United States from the state oil company PDVSA.